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All of us know Paul. He was imprisoned, flogged, shipwrecked, pummelled with stones, nearly poisoned by a snakebite and eventually beheaded – all for trying to spread the gospel.
But there is another aspect of Paul we tend to leave out. He was also a marketplace minister, working with Priscilla and Aquila as tentmakers to merchants, hagglers, alongside fellow tentmakers. These are people whom we today call our clients, customers and colleagues.
Paul worked not only to support himself financially as a missionary but also to relate with, and reach out to, the secular world.
“What goes on inside the church building should happen all over the city.”
Ministers wherever we are
This notion that all Christians are ministers wherever they are – not just in the church or as full-time missionaries – needs to be recovered, said Ed Silvoso, the author of Anointed for Business and Ekklesia. He was in Singapore earlier this year for the Kingdom Invasion conference.
“What goes on inside our four walls, inside the church building, should happen all over the city,” he declared.
For the gospel to sweep the nation, believers should first stop separating the church and the workplace.
“If I sum up my ‘Christian’ life as going to church 52 times a year, a church camp in June, giving my tithes and, if I’m on the ball, a conference and a short-term mission trip, then there’s something wrong with that,” says Timothy Wong, 48, who heads group research at DBS Bank.
Dry and thirsty
The banker, who has been running Alpha courses at The Book Cafe for the past 15 years, says: “Being a Christian on earth is not an individualistic, feel-good affair. Our purpose is to bring a part of heaven – an example of God’s love, grace and power – into places that are dry and thirsty.”
Alpha courses are interactive faith-based sessions for people, especially non-churchgoers, seeking answers about God.
“Christians have to start seeing their workplaces as harvest fields.”
Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church Yang Tuck Yoong agrees. “Christians in Singapore have become very lethargic and ignorant about the office space environment. They have to start seeing their workplaces as harvest fields,” he said.
“Personally, I think the issue of salvation has not gone deep enough for many people.
“I think it’s very important for people to realise that everything you do in life, you’ll be judged whether you have fulfilled the will of God for your life.”
Pastor Yang references John 17 just before Jesus was arrested by the Romans. In that chapter, Jesus recounted that He had glorified the Father (John 17:4), finished the work given (John 17:4), and manifested God’s name to the people around Him (John 17:6).
“This is what Christians are called to accomplish as well.”
Being God’s vessels
“Those in the marketplace need to see that every bit of their job is part of God’s kingdom,” says Wong. For managers, that means recognising that staff members are human beings, not human resources used to achieve goals. As a worker, it means trying to ethically create value for your company, its investors and partners.
More importantly, Wong says that “Christians have to be filled and guided by the Holy Spirit at work.
“They must be able to see the impact God can make through them, instead of getting lost in the attempt of trying to do God’s work in their own efforts.”
“The Christian’s purpose is to bring a part of heaven into places that are dry and thirsty.”
What changed Wong’s thinking was when he began to recognise that God is at work wherever people are, including the office.
“There’s a timing for everything. Maybe the idea is not to evangelise to this whole town, but perhaps to just build a great factory and lay it at the right time, or just pray a blessing over the community.
“In the end, whether people receive Christ as their personal Saviour is the work of the Holy Spirit. But I just have to play my role.”
The church also has to reconsider its approach. Wong feels that churches must learn to release their leaders into the marketplace, instead of keeping them within the church just to increase their congregation numbers.
When Christians enter the marketplace to work with and minister to the different “Priscillas and Aquilas” in their midst, then will the Church body grow exponentially, fulfilling Singapore’s call to be the Antioch of Asia, Wong adds.
Church should not be limited to a Sunday service.
“If I’m a pastor of a 1,000-member church, do I want to keep my leadership team so that I can meet my goal of becoming a bigger 2,000, 3,000-member church?
“Or am I actually ready to say, thank you God for blessing us with 1,000 members. Now, I want to release these 1,000 people to start groups of 10. Even if my church shrinks, these guys are out there doing what God is calling them to do.”
Wong says that organising marketplace fellowships under the Alpha umbrella has shown him the idea that the church should not be limited to a Sunday service.
Many of the marketplace circles Wong started have continued to grow, sprouting bible study groups and some even continue to do ministry work on their own.
Some of his former Alpha attendees have set up a fellowship group with the elderly poor living at Jalan Kukoh across from The Book Cafe, where they first met. Now, they are spending time and worshipping with about eight to 10 seniors every Saturday morning.
“To me, that’s a picture of what would happen when you get out of this mindset that everything must be done in a church. You empower people.”